Facing a Coeliac Christmas? With kids? We share our experience and offer some tips for getting you through the festive season. (With Coeliac UK’s Tales from a Gluten Free Christmas Campaign #gfchristmas)
The challenges of a Coeliac Christmas
Whether you are an adult Coeliac or the parent of a diagnosed child, the Coeliac Christmas presents its own unique challenges. Not only is it one of the biggest events in the annual foodie calendar, but it is filled with parties, gatherings and events that often centre around elaborate dinner and buffet tables, stacked high with tempting treats… most of them filled with the gluten we have to avoid. For Coeliac sufferers, Christmas can feel excluding and sometimes down-right scary. And if it’s your child who is Coeliac, the worry increases massively…
But it doesn’t have to be all bad. As a Coeliac family, we love Christmas. We loved it before diagnosis and we still love it now. With some extra planning, being armed with knowledge about how to stay gluten safe and being ready and prepared for a few (sometimes) awkward conversations to help family and friends ‘get it’, we have learned to navigate smoothly through the annual food fest. It may feel scary, but being Coeliac at Christmas doesn’t have to be a barrier to having a great time.
This year, Coeliac UK are supporting the gluten free Community by sharing real life Christmas experiences. And in this post, I am pleased to share our experience of getting through a children’s Coeliac Christmas, as part of Coeliac UK’s ‘Tales from a Gluten Free Christmas’ campaign (#gfchristmas). Visit www.coeliac.org.uk/gf-christmas to find out more.
Being the parent of a Coeliac Child…
As parents of a Coeliac child, facing the first gluten free Christmas is a daunting prospect. The usually straight forward eat anything and everything party season suddenly becomes a set of red lights and question marks. It feels tough and unfair….
Our daughter was diagnosed at 6 (back in 2011)… in the November… Just before Christmas… When the class parties were planned and Christmas ‘menus’ were well underway.
Like anyone faced with a new diagnosis, we were upset and worried about what it meant and how it would change life for our daughter and our family. But Christmas was looming and it needed to feel as normal as possible. It was time to learn and learn fast…
Since then, we have made mistakes, learnt a lot and been round the ‘Coeliac Christmas block’ many times. I promise it does get easier.
At the start, it was really helpful to know that we were not alone… With a prevalence of 1 in 100 people having Coeliac Disease, we knew there must be lots of families going through it with us. And organisations like Coeliac UK were a massive help… offering a wealth of information, support, advice and loads of resources.
It turns out there are countless Facebook support groups too… As well as blogs like this one which will offer an ear, product recommendations and recipes to make it a Christmas as good as any other.
Helping make it a great gluten free Christmas – Survival tips for the Coeliac Parent
The Coeliac Christmas is all about food… Food that is safe and doesn’t leave anyone feeling excluded… whether at home, school, or with family and friends. So, what are our top survival tips to make a gluten free Christmas great?
Positivity is a good thing…
Being positive is a good thing. Children look to us for clues and cues about how they should be feeling and whether they should be worried. For us, being as upbeat as possible about what was safe to eat (rather than dwelling on the food that was no longer on the menu), made a huge difference for our child. Without a doubt, it was at odds with how we were feeling on the inside, but looking back now, being ‘positive parents’ really helped our daughter feel better about her diagnosis and about getting happily through that first Coeliac Christmas.
After all… the Coeliac diagnosis was a good thing. It meant that with a gluten free diet she’d feel better and get well. And that was an amazing Christmas present.
The usual gluten rules apply…
As always, the basic gluten free food rules apply… Christmas doesn’t mean risking anything that might be unsafe either for convenience or because it feels unfair… ‘Just a little’ gluten is a dangerous thing. Never think you have to accept a glutenous offering just because you are worried about hurting someone else’s feelings. With so much freely placed ‘social’ Christmas food available however, extra vigilance may make the difference between a great Christmas and a sick Christmas.
What are the basic rules?
- People with Coeliac must never eat anything that contains gluten. (If you’re not sure what’s safe and what isn’t, I have a guide to Safe Eating and Cross-Contamination. Or head to Coeliac UK for their Gluten Free Diet information)
- Read LABELS like a hawk to check the ingredients… Not just the basic ingredients, but checking for any ‘may contain’ warnings as well. And don’t feel embarrassed about asking to read labels for anything friends and family offer too… This is a health need, not a ‘fad’… Coeliac UK offers current information on Labelling Laws, safe product lists and also has an award-winning Food Checker App for scanning product labels.
- Stay vigilant to cross-contamination risk both at home (particularly if others prepare and eat gluten in the house) and at social events. I’ve offered lots of information about Cross Contamination and how to avoid it on my Safe Eating and Cross-Contamination page. Or as always, Coeliac UK offers advice and support… Here’s their Cross-Contamination advice.
- If unsure about how or where something has been prepared and whether it is safe to eat… ask as many questions as you need to be certain that the food contains no gluten and has no risk of cross-contamination. If still in doubt, don’t risk eating it.
Children and the Coeliac Christmas – special considerations
My daughter has grown through many Christmasses with Coeliac and at 15, I now trust her implicitly to manage her food safety. But, depending on the age and needs of your child and how recently they have been diagnosed, you may need to offer lots of extra support. Some children will learn the food-safety ropes very quickly and others will need more supervision… Either way, keeping them coeliac-safe is essential.
- For very young children… help them learn about gluten-safety while supervising and watching very closely to keep them safe.
- Slightly older children may start to resent interference from parents… Teach them well and then offer them some responsibility while keeping a very close eye.
- Teenagers can be an interesting bunch… You’ll know your child! If they understand well and have more Coeliac experience, they may naturally take full ownership of their own food safety (unless there is a reason why they shouldn’t or can’t). But an agreed strategy for extra reassurance and checks can be helpful oversight.
As always, Coeliac UK are on hand with guidance for Kids, Teens and Young Adults.
And if you are new to parenting a Coeliac Child, we also have a Practical Guide to support you.
School Christmas parties and the school Christmas dinner
The school Christmas (particularly at Primary school), was always going to be tough. Christmas parties with kids can be chaotic events with no control over what food is sent in by parents and random sweets and treats being offered as party game prizes. And then there’s the school Christmas dinner… fraught with risks from gluten ingredients and cross-contamination.
I suspect that for 2020 with the restrictions we face, school Christmas parties may well be constrained. But when we went through it, we sent in a separate labelled gluten free ‘party pack’ (with clear staff instructions attached). There was simply too much risk from crumbs, spillages and gluten-contaminated fingers…
The school were fantastically helpful though… Once we had talked through arrangements with the class teacher, we were reassured that someone would take responsibility for overseeing the eating frenzy and ensuring that the prizes for our little one were safe.
And school Christmas dinner? We thank our lucky stars for the amazing kitchen staff… After talking to them directly about our daughter’s needs, they went out of their way to prepare her dinner safely and with separate gluten free gravy too… They even made a special gluten free cake! Her school Christmas was exactly as it should be.
Managing a Coeliac Christmas when visiting family and friends
One of the possible ‘flash points’ at Christmas can be family and friends who don’t ‘get it’. So, it’s definitely worth talking to anyone you are visiting ahead of time to explain health needs and to ask about any food that is being prepared. Our family and friends were amazing at supporting us, but having the conversation before we got there meant that we could enjoy ourselves that bit more.
Either way… we always had a ready alternative and snacks in the bag to keep hunger at bay if we got caught short.
Last but not least… Cooking with the kids
Of course, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a bit of family fun, cooking Christmassy stuff with the kids. Whether it’s a fabulously extravagant Gingerbread House or Gingerbread shapes, decorating the Christmas Cake, making Marshmallow Snowmen, baking German Lebkuchen, a huge Christmas Tree Cake or some Custard Creams for Grandma. There’s lots of recipes both at Gluten Free Alchemist and across the web to help you share the magic of Christmas baking and Gluten Free Cooking.
Some of my favourite fellow bloggers also offer plenty of ideas too…
- Glutarama – Gluten free, dairy free, vegan
- Intolerant Gourmand – extensive allergies and intolerances
- Le Coin De Mel – some gluten free
- Free From Fairy
- Peachicks Bakery – mostly vegan with some gluten free
- Gluten Free Blogger
However you spend your Coeliac Christmas, be sure to stay safe xx